We moved to Nashville about 6 years ago from Southern, CA. One of the first places I checked out was the world renown “Ryman” auditorium . It is considered sacred ground by most country musicians and most recently by rock and pop musicians as well.
Surrounding that area there are street musicians on about every corner. I have always been intrigued by these artists, regardless of what part of the world I am in at the time, but the level of talent here in Nashville on the streets is like no other place.
We ran into an elderly gentleman on the street a while back, that asked if we wanted to listen to his CD. He told us that he was a songwriter and then. with a twinkle in his eye, laughed and said “of course everyone in this town is a songwriter and going to be famous someday”. As we were driving home we put his CD in the player out of curiosity. To our surprise it was an “A” level record with great studio players, etc, etc. To this day one of his songs still stays with me. The hook is “you can call me a loser, but to you it’s MISTER LOSER”.
Following are just a few artists that started out as “buskers” the name given the street musicians in the UK and Europe.
He may have gone down in musical history now, but Rod Stewart wasn’t always so successful. When his first band ‘The Raiders’ didn’t work out, he joined forces with a folk singer named Wizz Jones and together the pair hit the streets of London and then Europe. Eventually this “busker” was deported from Spain for vagrancy. Luckily Rod had the last laugh, going on to sell millions of records.
Unsurprisingly Tracy Chapman was no ordinary street performer. The ‘Fast Car’ singer managed to obtain a high-sought permit from the Cambridge Arts Council, allowing her to perform in Harvard Square. Chapman’s university pal Brian Koppelman was so impressed with his friend’s musical talents that he introduced her to his father who was in charge of a record label. As soon as she graduated, Chapman was signed to Elektra Records.
Sometimes the most legendary musicians have the most humble beginnings. Riley B. King was one such musician, who’s musical success story began on the streets of Mississippi. The guitar and blues player would perform at jazz nights across America, gaining fans wherever he played. Eventually the soulful King became a radio DJ and renamed himself B.B. King, short for ‘Beale Street Blues Boy’, named after a road where he used to play.
Anyone who’s listened and loved Janis Joplin’s music will be able to notice the gritty realness that dominates her tracks. She’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest rock n’ roll singers in history, but her beginnings were far less glamorous. The ‘Piece of my Heart’ singer had a rebellious nature and recorded her first song on a tape. Joplin lived a beatnik lifestyle and during her time at University in Texas, she used to commute to Austin to perform alone with her guitar.
The pride of Homer, Alaska, Jewel Kilcher had just finished her first semester at a fine arts school in Michigan when she decided to travel the country as a street performer. With her guitar, the four chords she knew how to play on it, and a skinning knife for protection, Jewel managed to make it as far as Mexico. After graduating, Jewel returned to drifting and lived out of her car. She played coffee shops around San Diego until she signed with Atlantic Records. Her debut album, Pieces of You, would go on to sell 12 million copies in the United States alone.
Proving that it is possible to go from street busker to Brit Award Nominee, the English folk singer Passenger definitely hasn’t followed a traditional path to musical success. His single ‘Let Her Go’ has topped billboard charts across the world (it’s a favourite here on Heart!), but Michael David Rosenberg, as he’s more formally known, peddled his tunes on the street corners of England and Australia in an attempt to break into the music industry, after he left school at the tender age of 16.
The Brit Award Winner is known for his scruffy appearance, but his days sleeping rough on the London Underground and sleeping on his mates sofas are well and truly behind him now. The talented musician pens his own songs, a rare trait in globally famous musicians these days. The ‘Thinking Out Loud’ singer may be one of Britain’s hottest exports these days, but he’s not forgotten that it wasn’t always that way: “I’d sleep on the circle line and gig in the evenings” he told ‘The Mail Online’.
Douglas “Doug” Seegers is a formerly homeless street musician from Nashville. He makes his living performing for the public, singing and playing his guitar on city sidewalks and street corners. The story of how he became known as a country singer is interesting. Originally from New York, Seegers made his way to Nashville, where he survived on the streets by performing country songs. Eventually, his unique style and voice were noticed when a Swedish TV show recorded him playing in Nashville. The exposure gained him a serious Swedish fanbase. Seegers is still gaining popularity today, and continues to record and perform. He should probably be even more popular, especially in the U.S. However, his Swedish fanbase is fairly dedicated, with some fans traveling all the way to Nashville just to hear him perform or to play/sing with him. Seegers is just happy to play. “I’ll play for anybody anywhere anytime,” he says.
The Everly Brothers
Don and Phil Everly grew up playing music with their parents as the Everly Family. The duo moved to Nashville in 1956 and wanted to break into the music industry. They played their guitars in the Ryman Alley, between the Ryman and the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway. This is the famous alley where Grand Ole Opry performers would cross from the show to the clubs. The Everlys played all the time, in hopes of getting noticed. They did. By Mr. Guitar, himself – Chet Atkins.. He was so impressed with the brothers that he invited them one night to perform on the Grand Ole Opry Stage. He immediately became a big fan of the Everly Brothers and opened a lot of doors for the act, leading up to their first big single “Bye Bye Love”. There is a manhole cover in Ryman Alley in or near the spot where the Everly Brothers used to play.